I’ve always been fascinated by the myth of David Bosman; as the man who forged the ideal of the male supermodel, as the jet-setting avatar of high glamour management and simply as a man of great taste and style. The story of the triumphs and troubles of Boss Models had always sounded like note perfect material for a Hollywood movie. It was with that backdrop in mind I went to interview David Bosman in the Meat Packing District at Florent. The man I encountered was not a myth, but a smart, charming, visually gifted creative spirit. David in our talk, shone with charisma, flashed an unflinching pride and testified to a tenacity to keep the Boss ideal sailing, no matter what the drama and trauma endured. I was moved by the sheer power of his creative spirit that had made something where there had been previously nothing and the enduring genius of his visual dexterity. His eye is legendary for good reason. As we opened the interview David noted that this was the last week of operation for Florent, a longstanding NY landmark that was pretty much my canteen as a club kid. I laughed at the thought that though a landscape was passing, Mr Bosman was proving to be certifiably indestructible. After penning this intro, I head out tonight to the party for Boss’ 20th anniversary, an event which perfectly signals and signifies that agency’s survival against many odds. Here are David’s thoughts on the past, present and most importantly, the future in his most extensive interview ever.
Wayne Sterling : So David just to give people the perspective..what attracted you to the modeling industry in the first place?
David Bosman: Well it actually goes back to my photography days. When I first came to New York I was supposed to open a photography studio. That’s what I really wanted to do and actually I was doing some real estate in addition. We had some space available but it wasn’t large enough for a photography studio but it was big enough for a modeling agency so I started to discuss it with a few agencies about the possibility of them taking space. But nothing really came into fruition so I thought… I would do it myself.
W: So you started Boss from absolute scratch.
DB: Yeah, I mean basically from zero. And in our first year we did a Calvin Klein campaign so we thought that was it… we’re done .. You know, we can close right now… it’s all finished. Everything has been achieved (lol). Basically though, the second year was very, very hard… We had all this great interest in the agency the first year so we naively thought this was normal. At that point there were only the large agencies which were Elite…Wilhelmina…Ford in existence. That’s all people really knew. So we were sort of a smaller agency and it was exciting but we really didn’t know what we were doing (lol).
W: You know, it’s always best when you go into something, not knowing…
DB: Ignorance is bliss sometimes…totally. So actually going into the 90’s then we had sort of started to make some headway in the industry and then I guess our first real success story was Marcus Schenkenberg ….He had actually gone around to the large agencies to Wilhelmina and Ford and for some reason I took him out to dinner with his girlfriend who was very intimidating and then we got a phone call to say that he’d really like to be with Boss. That was really the start of it. And he was really a very honest… sort of like… wholesome kind of guy. This was our first superstar because he came to us out of choice not as a political move and then he booked Calvin Klein Jeans. There was a 21 page supplement with Vanity Fair. He was in the shower naked and it was very controversial and from there on in it just basically flew. Then we booked Dolce & Gabbana with John Foster, it was a series of things that took place. It was just really very exciting. And from there on in it was just no stopping..It just went to 100 mph.. We really thought that was it…It was really amazing. It was sort of a happy moment but there was a lot more work involved. I guess we did an apprenticeship in the first two years, so by the time we became a market force I think we were a little bit more..ready for it.
W: And then after that came the Concorde years.
DB: Well not necessarily me personally.. That’s how people got about. I mean Amber Valetta flew the Concorde. So did other clients…It was just the way it was. But I think we at Boss gained this reputation of flying around on the Concorde and drinking champagne.. It’s just stupid because that’s not the case.
W: Now were going into the 90’s and this is the point where you get credit for creating the male supermodel.
DB: Actually at the time we were sort of having a bit of hard time developing our women’s division because our guys were so key and they were doing worldwide campaigns. I remember speaking to Ivan Bart, who is now the head of IMG. He was like “David, I think you should just really concentrate on the men” so we did for a period of time until I believe… 1994. And then Jason Kanner was working with me and we decided that we would do women. The competition was pretty stiff but we decided we could do just a couple and put them right in the middle of the men’s board. Before coming to NY I was a photographer in Europe and I actually photographed Hervé Le Bihan. I tested him in his early days; he was currently going out with Amber Valetta at the time. They came to New York. They were with Ford and became very unhappy. So he actually ended up being represented by us and introduced me to Amber. That was our very first girl but Amber was always a bit of a rebel. So the ideal of being with a men’s agency to her was equally attractive. From there on in we got about 4 or 5 girls like Sarah O’hare, who is now Rupert Murdock’s son’s wife, Tonya Bird and Angie Harmon. We only had about ten girls but they were really, really, really top level. But not enough to develop a commercial womens board. We were still very very eclectic and at the same time, fragile. So I guess our reputation has really been with men. But now we have beautiful girls that I’m really really proud of. I think the men’ s industry has become much more mainstream and perhaps not as specialized as it used to be so now we’re sort of redeveloping ourselves again and the girls we’ve got are just spectacular… I think.
W: So what you’re saying essentially is that your new passion is to focus on the women’s market…
DB:I think the industry has changed as a whole, so our passion is everything. It’s women, men, art, everything. It’s not just a “male model agency” or a “women’s agency” you have to be much more diverse mainly because the industry is totally diverse now. It requires sort of like, a wider eye. I think that’s what we’ve got Florian Acheron for. He’s very good at what he does. He has a very young perspective on things which I love because I think he’s introducing new things to me and it’s a new energy.
W: Besides, fashion is an industry that’s always about reinventing yourself constantly.
DB:Well it is that but then of course we can go off the bubble gum and go onto some reality that I think all the agencies have to face now. Which is it’s just not the same as it used to be, you know… and that’s seemingly what we’re embracing and I think it’s our future.
W: So before we transition to the current moment, in terms of this narrative we’re at the height of Boss. It’s the Ambers and the Marcus’ and now there’s like a spot of trouble, could you describe what happened in that period?
DB:Well, I think what’s really taken place and I think it’s very much connected to now as well as the past … We were one of the first agencies that really experienced a change in the industry. For instance we were totally known as the agency with the male supermodel, the eclectic superstar girls and all of a sudden changes had come about in the market. I kinda actually credit an agency- it no longer exists- Clear, for triggering a big change in the men’s business. It started a new image which was supposed to be like the Seattle ideal , you know.
It was a stringier, more sort of grunge like feeling. Well, it was just a new image and although we did embrace it, and we certainly had models that were involved in editorials or advertising that had that look, Clear seemed to get the new pulse on the industry. It was very very difficult to redevelop people’s taste against what we were doing. It’s like “Oh, but you have supermodels so you couldn’t possibly be artistic enough to see another vision.” Well the unfortunate thing is that’s how people looked at us. They already had an opinion about Marcus Schenkenberg or Matt King or the type of models we would represent. So even when we would try to reintroduce something I think they still had this idea that ‘that’s not modern’. But anyway, that was our reality and of course we have bookers that believed in that supermodel ideal. You know what John Babin is like… his is a very specific point of view. Jason (Kanner) has a specific point of view. So do you wake up the next day with a new point of view?
W: A point of view has to be honest…
DB:That’s where passion comes from and if it’s really what’s going at that moment then you can capitalize on it. If it’s yesterday’s news, it’s very difficult to develop into something that the clients really want. I guess that was the beginning of the trouble. Plus we were in NY, London, Miami and I can honestly say the characters that really ran through the agencies worldwide were larger than life. That is the simplest thing to say . I guess you guys (at MDC) must see that this is a business that attracts intense individuals because you go around to all the agencies. So if you apply the sympathetic eye to the situation, imagine what I might have had to deal with. And it usually started at three in the morning because London would be open or Cape Town. I mean it was just really a cast of characters and I spent a lot of time on that which took my time away from what I really enjoyed doing the most. Unfortunately, success doesn’t come with a handbook.
W: Well we’re all just making this up as we go along…right?
DB:Yeah. So anyway, that was pretty much the start of the difficult period of Boss because it was just too overextended and of course all our star bookers all basically required huge salaries and the war chest really basically depleted very quickly. That would probably the most honest explanation of what really happened. The rest of it was me being a warrior and basically trying to keep the ship in even waters and moving forward at the same time which by the way is no easy feat.
W: I can only imagine…
DB: I now actually get the slight amusement of watching most of the other agencies as we speak now, following that momentum because everyone’s trying to fathom out what’s really going on. The industry has changed. It’s not what it was and that’s thanks to the Internet and a lot of people having more personal…more individual points of view of what fashion is or what it isn’t. Before it was a bit more of a dictatorship I would say. So there are great changes, rolling through the industry right now. So, now we’ve changed our agency and our policies. We’re much tighter, we’re obviously looking over the long term like for instance for girls like Jasmine who with the string of photographers she’s worked with is in a fantastic position to transition into a great career. It’s insanity since she’s only 16 but she’s been with me since she’s been 12. So I guess what we’re really doing now is actually working in the long term with talent that we really believe will be a big part of the future.
W: And the good thing is the name is established. It’s 20 years, whatever the ups and downs.
DB: Yes, we’re 20 years old and we’re proud of it. Also I love the industry, I love beautiful things and to me that’s the monkey on my back, you know, that’s my drug, that’s my heroin, it’s what I love, I just can’t help myself. But it does give you that extra strength to get through another day when it just seems absolutely impossible and commercially impossible. Florian’s great upset is that people take advantage of the models also. You know because they’re young, they want to be on the dance floor, they want to be the center of attention and people are out there taking advantage of them “We’ll give you 100 dollars” and their image is out there being completely used worldwide. The model doesn’t realize until afterwards that they had been taken advantage of in that way. So there are some good and there are some very bad influences that are out there. Even though I can’t do anything about it, you know it’s not like I can stop it but we can try and be more definitive in what we do and we are. Our clients respect us, the clients are brilliant, they’re blue chip and they call constantly so that’s a strength we have.
W: How would you describe your new point of view, or perspective in presenting models to clients now?
DB: I think that we have something that belongs to us. I can’t give it to you under a “label” as yet because it’s still being developed but we have something that’s uniquely ours. We have a reputation of 20 years in the business and I think because we’re smaller and more focused we’re offering something very, very unique. So I actually think, in a very short period of time, we’ll be ahead of the curve, again which is very exciting.
W: Well thank you so much David for a really enlightening talk. You’re simply fascinating.
DB: Thanks so much to you guys at MDC !